Century Ply’s latest campaign marks a shift in its communication, from being a commodity to a consumer brand. Amit Kumar Gope, GM, Marketing, Century Plyboards (India) Limited, talks about this shift, the group’s future strategy and challenges for the sector
BY SAMARPITA BANERJEE
Q] What was the thought behind Century Ply’s latest campaign?
While we have many products, panels or ply is our bread and butter business. However, advertising has been ad hoc in this category, both for us and competition. There has been no serious brand building or category building and people still see the product as a commodity. However, my conviction is that we will make this category akin to paints, where the commodity becomes a brand. I hope competition will also follow suit and give us good advertising propositions for the consumer to make this category into a consumer brand. We realized that the key issue for consumers not understanding plywood was the fact that it’s a background product. Consumers don’t really see or feel the product and hence their involvement with the product is not too high. What they don’t realize is that using poor quality has a cost, that of replacement and of social embarrassment; and all that is best avoided by using the right quality product. These are the two pillars on which we built our latest campaign.
Q] How has Century Ply’s communication evolved or changed?
It has just become more effective. Century Ply has not been known for very consistent advertising. It’s only since the last three years that we are sustaining our advertising. The good part has been retained. The TVCs and the rest of the campaigns have been appreciated, which keeps us going. We use the best people to create our campaigns. What is new is that we have started using digital to a much larger extent. Retail saliency has come up in a big way because of which people now see Century Ply more often than they used to earlier. Eventually, they will start believing in the brand far more than they did earlier.
Q] What is your market-share and how are you planning to grow it?
Currently our market-share hovers around 7-8% in the total market, and about 16-17% in the branded market, which is a thin leadership stance. But we definitely have aspirations to take strong leadership stances. We soon want to take a 30% market-share in the branded market. Our plans are to double our market-share in the next three years.
Q] You have expanded to countries like Laos, Myanmar and Singapore. Are there plans of further increasing your global footprint?
Our overseas facilities are manufacturing and not marketing facilities. They are tactical in nature primarily because by law, raw materials cannot be exported from those countries. We have to export the finished product. So, I think it’s a very visionary thing to do to quickly set up manufacturing facilities in those countries. Eventually that will translate into marketing facilities. For future expansion, Africa looks exciting because it is a large provider of raw materials and is a large market by itself.
Q] What is Century Ply’s broad marketing strategy for the next few years?
More than a marketing strategy, I would call it our business strategy and it is going to be multi-pronged. Firstly, we are making wholehearted attempts at transforming Century Ply into a consumer product by creating a consumer pull for the brand. The other big attempt is to create other categories. So we have just commissioned an MDF and Prelam plant in Chennai which will start commercial production from February. We have already instituted a plant in Hoshiarpur. Sainik, our economy brand is going to penetrate the lower end of the market and the vision statement is to make it the ‘Nirma’ of the category. We are also getting into other products very quickly. Our doors are doing well and the segment is already almost touching Rs 200 crore. We are also getting into flooring and other products that are not necessarily panel-based like acrylic or PVC because eventually plywood would die out because of lack of raw materials.
Q] Since your business involves cutting of trees, how are you making your products more environmentfriendly?
Most of our raw materials are imported. We are not allowed to cut trees in India because we do not have afforestation and deforestation laws, which is one reason why the plywood industry in Assam almost closed down. However, the countries we export our raw materials from are strongly governed by afforestation, deforestation policies like FCAA, ASFCC. These are global certifications. So, if you cut a tree, you have to plant four more. We are not allowed to import and manufacture without these certifications. So, you can’t really do anything wrong in the industry at the moment. India has to develop in a big way into this category.
Q] What are some of the challenges for the category in India?
One of the big challenges was the taxation which has now been solved with the GST. The other challenge that is being faced by the laminates category is the fact that we don’t manufacture any of the paper in India. While the three largest manufacturers of laminates are from India, the base paper or the design paper for laminates is not produced here. We import it from all over the world, including China. It has a huge scope but strangely, nobody has done it yet. It is a huge challenge. Cost for the category could come down dramatically if we manufactured the right quality of paper here. Also, very little R&D is being done in the country for this category, unlike paints or steel. Whatever we see here is always imported technology.
Q] What is your media mix?
At the moment, it is primarily TV. But I love Digital because it can make a lot of difference in making consumers understand the category.
Q] How are you increasing your presence on Digital?
I will rate our Digital efforts at par with the best of brands. Century Ply is quite visible on Digital. We are there on social media, we have our channels on YouTube and we are tweeting and Instagramming almost every day. I would say our Digital visibility is almost three times more in terms of engagement in comparison to any of our competition. We are almost as good as Samsung, Frooti or Asian Paints.
Q] How do you modify your marketing strategies for Tier II and Tier III markets?
TV penetrates every market. We haven’t yet been associated with a cricket property, which could help us get better penetration. Many unknown brands have become known just by associating with the sport. However, Tier II and Tier III markets see a lot more retail and market visibility, a lot more activations at the ground level in terms of dealer meets and carpenter meets, etc. Overall, with each passing day, the gap between Tier I, II and III cities is reducing dramatically in terms of media consumption. Today, everybody is on TV and Digital and the demarcations in terms of media access are going off. Plus the coming of 4G will further help.
Q] What are your expectations from the GST?
GST is going to be a great market leveller for the commodities and building material categories that have a lot of unorganized markets. Firstly, it will help us reduce our prices dramatically. We are perceived as a costly product, which we have no qualms about, because we give the best quality. But GST will help us bring down costs. The unorganized market will be shaken up - they will not be able to afford the kind of pricing that they currently play on, the undercutting, the local market play… they cannot do that now. It will ensure that their prices come up quite a bit. If the difference was almost 30-40% now between a branded and unbranded product, it will come down to 10%. So the consumer would rather pay that 10% extra for a far superior quality branded product. Also, it will make lives simpler for dealers, trade channels, consumers, because it’s one India one pricing. The MRP in the real sense will come out. For example, Kerala pricing and Kashmir pricing will be the same, for most products. That’s going to change consumer behaviour completely.